I think of football (soccer) club websites much as I do automotive websites; traditionally pretty poor and, dare I say it, a reliable indicator of little digital knowledge at a board or senior management level.
The stereotypical Premier League club website would have a big interstitial with a button to ‘enter site’, then a clunky UX that’s too busy, not mobile-friendly, or both.
Thankfully, over the last two or three years, most Premier League clubs have improved their websites, but there is still not much to get excited about.
Take West Ham United as an example. The club launched a new website in early 2015.
Improvements were made but you can still see evidence of ‘enter site’ interstitials, alongside arguably too much display advertising (retargeting from retailers etc.), and a slightly confused homepage that includes, amongst other things, social media posts which are surely better consigned to their own channel.
Interstitial when you arrive at West Ham’s website
The usability of the site is also compromised by less than elegant UX and formatting (see below).
I’m being a little picky, but the point is that Premier League websites have improved but still aren’t great.
However, Southampton FC launched its new site earlier this month claiming it would rethink the fan-club relationship and be measured against world-leading brands, rather than simply other football clubs.
So, does the site look promising? Here are some of the things I noticed.
Newsfeed as homepage
This is a sensible idea. Homepages are too often a confusing hodge podge of content blocks.
Southampton’s homepage defaults to ‘Saints Live’, the name Southampton gives to its newsfeed. For anything else, you can dive into the menu.
Above the fold sits a carousel which shows the latest news story and a marketing message (when I visited this was discounted tickets for an upcoming cup game).
It is slightly annoying that I can’t swipe this carousel, but the transition does at least grab my attention.
Below this carousel and still above the fold is key information (next match and league position), which is presented clearly.
From then on, you can scroll down through the newsfeed (ordered chronologically) and pick out a story or video that interests you.
It’s nice that stories can be closed easily, via a button at the top of the article, so the user doesn’t have to navigate back to the newsfeed.
Easy to open and close news items
Promotional blocks are interspersed throughout the newsfeed, but not so frequently as to annoy.
Social posts from players are also featured in the newsfeed. I’m not sure they work particularly well, as the formatting is poor – for example, Instagram posts do not show any text or comments when previewed (see below).
Users can click through these social posts and be taken to the player’s Instagram post in-app, so this undoubtedly will bring followers to the squad, but it doesn’t exactly provide edifying content on the site itself.
Cross-channel content like this can work well, but too often the integration is a little clunky.
Social content is poorly formatted
Elsewhere, nice details include ‘related content’ suggestions at the bottom of articles, which work well.
And search, too, was competent.
Suggested content and search
All in all, the newsfeed is exactly the sort of content football fans look for from publishers, and Southampton does well to make it so accessible and prominent.
Simply put, give the fans what they want.
Registration for video is a good idea
The video content available is pretty good. Interviews, match replays, highlights etc. are presented appealingly within the newsfeed.
To watch videos or listen to matchday commentary, users must register either using their email address or via social log-in.
This is a nice way of capturing customer data.
One small niggle – the copywriting here could be improved. ’Access digital content’ doesn’t mean much and takes the fun out of football.
Simplicity of UX
The menu is easy to use and pleasingly limited with five main options and no niggly submenus (see West Ham’s site).
Less visited webpages are tucked away in the ‘more’ tab, and this is a model of efficient information architecture.
As one would expect, the site is mobile-friendly (using Google’s testing tool), and its pages score pretty well (homepage at 70/100) when put through Google’s Mobile Page Insights.
There are also few distractions in the content itself (no display ads) and the design is simple enough to avoid niggles.
Perhaps a lack of inventive content?
Southampton FC has more product development planned, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some more sophisticated and interactive content on this platform.
It feels like something that’s missing at the moment.
The newsfeed content is great, but without anything to appeal to younger demographics, does the site neglect the next generation?
Below are two examples of fun content from Arsenal, the kind of interaction that Southampton should look to add if possible.
This kind of content, albeit more expensive to produce, draws more traffic from social media and may be a valuable weapon for data collection.
Identify former players and predict who will get 10 goals this season
There are some nice touches to the ticket buying experiences. A user can set a favourite seat section which is selected each time they buy.
There is a handy ‘where should I sit?’ prompt, which, although it loads a non-mobile-friendly PDF, is helpful if you don’t know the stadium (e.g. which stands are family-friendly).
Like pretty much all football club websites, I can only go so far down the ticket purchase journey before I have to register.
This occurs pretty early on and I can’t help but think these clubs are missing a trick.
Allowing guest checkout surely wouldn’t be such a bad thing? After all, I would still have to provide an email address and a billing address.
Continuing with ecommerce, the club online shop isn’t great. However, this is on a microsite and I suspect hasn’t been updated in the revamp.
I would expect the shop to be another point on the club’s digital roadmap.
I enjoyed using the Southampton FC site.
Having moved from the Football League’s limited website platform to this new design, the club will hope this site will serve the purpose for the next three years at least.
By eschewing bells and whistles, sticking to a simple design that puts content first, the fans should be happy.
Especially if Nathan Redmond and Charlie Austin keep scoring.